The transition from active duty to veteran or retiree family can be as confusing as it is exciting. Through the Transition Tales series, MFAN’s Advisory Board combines personal experience with practical advice and resources to assist the whole family through this complex adjustment period.
The opinions in this column are the views of the author, Lauren Hope.
What happens when you hit the end of the proverbial road? After military service, what’s next? I am going to ask the question that not enough people are asking: What do you want for yourself?
I want you to seriously think about the last time you asked yourself what you want. More importantly, when was the last time you gave yourself the time necessary to create an answer that you deserve? Military spouses, I am looking directly at you. It is a simple question, right? It shouldn’t be scary. Yet, somehow it is terrifying.
A friend recently said that hope is probably the single most powerful force in the universe. The single most powerful force in the universe. I paid attention (obviously), but I also took it to heart. Selfishly, I want to believe that I am exactly that. Even if your last name is not “Hope,” I empower you to internalize the statement too.
Change is inevitable. As military families, we don’t always know when the transition from military service will happen, but one thing is for certain: everyone will eventually complete their military service. Even the generals have to retire at the end. For everyone else, “the end” is a little more unknown. For my family, we have been enduring a medical board for nearly a year, and we are still not certain if the end is in sight.
Transitioning from the military lifestyle has its own set of challenges that I am not yet fully privy to, but the more I look down the road and ponder the future, I recognize the importance of preparation. No matter when your time comes, there are steps you can take right now to start buffering against inevitable inconveniences and hardships.
I became enthralled with asking the question of others – What do you want for yourself? Personally? Professionally? What is going to make you happy in this life?
You know what shocked me? No one knew their answer!
After I realized that I didn’t know the answer to what I wanted to do for myself, I set out to find it. I wanted to find something that made me happy, something that I was good at, and frankly, (I have had to work up the courage to say this) I wanted to feel valued. After far too many under-appreciated volunteer positions, I wanted to be rewarded and paid for my efforts too.
I own businesses. I write business plans. One, five, ten years out — I am always looking to the future. Yet somehow, I had neglected to …no, that’s not right… I had chosen to protect my heart by passing on planning out my desires. But I have decided I am not waiting in the wings any longer. I am writing my life plan right here, right now.
Mark Rockefeller is the Chairman and Founder of Second Service Foundation, and he asks the question all the time: “What is your second service?” An Air Force veteran himself, he knows what it is like to transition out of the military, and he found his unique way to leave his mark on the world.
His question drew me in. I didn’t just want to answer my own question; I wanted to find my second service. I wanted to plan my next chapter in life. Through a series of conversations about my desires for the future, after speaking what I wanted into the world, my dream job was forged! I now have the privilege of helping veterans and military spouses find their second service.
We need to change the mental narrative of military spouses through transition.
Here are my 4 a.m. musings of advice to get you started:
- If you want to buy a house: Do it a year before or after getting out of the service, but don’t plan on buying it right at retirement. Yes, service members have access to the VA loan, but one only qualifies for their best amount based on the solid earnings of a current job. Once a service member retires, they don’t have a job! Which leads me to my next point…
- Dual income is a really big deal! As a military spouse, having a career can be an incredible safety net during transition. As you figure out where your final duty station is, dig in to find the job you really want, not just the job you need.
- Don’t let social media fool you — few couples are dual career and killing it in the way we see portrayed on social media. While I celebrate their successes, remember: they are outliers. You are not alone in needing to find what is best for you. Find your tribe and support each other.
- Make the best decision possible, and keep moving. Don’t settle. Find good enough, stabilize, and then go find better. You deserve the best.
- Search for your idea of perfection. Can’t find it? Make your own.
- Focus on strengths and forget your weaknesses (you were never that good at them anyway).
And for those of us who are nowhere close to transitioning yet? That’s okay! You can still start building your empire now.
Here is some advice if you find yourself asking, “How?”
- Do side hustles. Even if you don’t find your passion, you will gain skills that will inevitably advance you in the future.
- Create multiple income streams. Read the book Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter, and play the game Cashflow until you internalize it.
- Be smart and don’t put all your eggs in one basket!
We can do hard things.
I tell myself this literally all the time. It has become my mantra that I use to fill in the gaps. I have told myself this so many times that I believe it.
In preparing for the transition from military to civilian life, I knew I had to take steps to protect my family, our financial well-being, and frankly, my sanity. In some ways it has felt like doomsday prepping, planning for the unknown. However, I know I am uniquely trained to handle all sorts of crises. I’m a military spouse — I can pivot with the best of them!
Military spouses need many things. Emergency contacts before the first call from the school nurse, RFOs before we pull out our hair, but more than anything, we need hope. It is probably the single most powerful force in the universe….and we need buckets of it.
An active duty military spouse of 16 years, I’m harnessing hope and using all my military spouse superhero skills to plan ahead for military transition.
The time is coming, and it’s better to not try to avoid it.
So I now I ask you: What do you want in your life after the military?